Saturday, December 16, 2006

I am so proud to be a Bangladeshi



I am a lucky person indeed. I have a loving family, supportive friends, a rewarding career, and most of the luxuries I might need (… well almost!). From my office desk I have a view that is an object of envy to many who see it. The site that I see everyday fascinates me. I see so much from just that one view. Banani-Gulshan Lake, tall buildings of posh Dhaka, big green open field, people boating. Quite breathe taking at times.

But then there is another way of looking at it. I also see a bosti, open sewer emptying into the lake, children bathing in it, dingies made of thermocal boards that ferry essentials. The ugliness of the city that we have grown immune to.

Every now and then someone comes along and breaks up this bosti. At times it are the wealthy landowners whose views they block. At times it are the cops who try to bust up a vice den or another. At times it is the sever rain or flooding. But then slowly but surely they come back up. I don’t know if it is the same group of people every time or not but like ants, one dhue tin, two bamboo pole at a time, the slum like the phoenix rises again and again.

I am not judging if they are right or wrong to “grab” this sliver of land on the lake. I think it is metaphoric to the struggle of everyday life in Bangladesh. We have a lot of hardship and struggle. At times when we think everything is over, we find the strength to give it one more push. That spirit is so great.

Another interesting fact: the neighbours to the bosti are fascinating as well. On one side on land “reclaimed” from the lake is the monstrous house of an ex-AL mayor of Dhaka. And on the other side, the coldly efficient office of a man whose name is taken as the mastermind behind the BNP’s “Bhaban” based business and politics. Caught in the middle the struggling plebeians!

And irony does not end here. To celebrate Bijoy Dibosh, guess who are the only ones flying the national flag?

There is hope for our nation. You can remove one person. End one life. Break one soul. But behind us there are 140 million more flags that will fly proudly.

I am a lucky person indeed!

Thursday, December 14, 2006




Small acts, small event like drops of water collect to form an ocean of change. Muktir Gaan captures the trails of such group of young patriots who decided to fight the might of the Pakistani army with the weapons they have in their hearts.

I have the privilege of working with some of the best young minds of our nation. I know the immense potential that they have. The young Gen71ers are doing such great work in so many varying fields. Be it business, IT, sports, culture, journalism, law, you name the field and they are etching their mark. One big exception seems to be politics. While it is true that some have entered the fray, I still see apathy and despair written across the face of most of our generation. We often balk at the task of leading change. But it has to be done. And it can be done. Little by little, we need to make our stand. We need to do what it takes to take back Bangladesh from the path of destruction it is heading down.

Now that I think of it, most of you who are / will read by blog are probably in your own ways championing the cause. But we need to amplify our voice. We need to reach out to others in our generation. We are the new intelligentsia of Bangladesh. We have the education, the exposure, the networks, the resources and the desire to see it happen. And in the words of a friend “dehina kon shalai tha-maai!”

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What should the Army do?

Here is what they should do. They should do what they have been brought in to do – ensure a free and fair election. All civilian approach in fixing our current political impasse seems to have fallen flat on its face. Military might, backed by some politically astute and rational thinking, can salvage the situation within the framework of the constitution. At this end they need to request President Iajuddin to give up his role as the Head of the Caretaker Government and merely be the President. By re-allocating his minders the Army can effectively cut him off form the puppet-master. As the head of the CTG they should request the constitutionally mandated next in line to KM Hassan to take charge and choose his own set of advisors. I believe given the situation over the last few weeks Justice Mahmudul Amin Choudhury as the head of the CTG will be very fair indeed. Also if he chooses a mixture of Advisors from the current (including resigned) and past CTGs then we should have public buy-in. The new CTG can go about in re-shuffling the administration effective so that it has no negative bearing on the fairness of the polls. The Army then can set about reconstituting the Election Commission. If it is headed by a retired bureaucrat who is well versed in the intricacies of the system then a reform of the electoral roles, presiding officers and the election process in general can happen very fast. And free and fair elections be held, say over the next 60 to 90 days.

(Hold on before getting on my case about the constitutional stipulation of voting within 25th January ’07. Mr. Nazim Kamran Choudhury in his commentary (“The Constitution is neither Bible nor play-thing”, Daily Star 5th December 2006 [http://nazimkamranchoudhury.blogspot.com/2006/12/constitution-is-neither-bible-nor-play.html]) argued that this clause is but a small hindrance that should not amount to anything more than a bump in the road. In any case, to look for examples of exceptions being made, one only need to look at the seats vacated during the last Parliament by the deaths of Col (Retd) Akbar Hossain and Khurshid Jahan Haq.)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Resigned to our fate?

So they have resigned.

I don’t want to get into the discussion about why they did it. There is a time in one’s life when you need to decide that if one’s self-respect is above the trappings of power. For these four Advisors the time had come when they felt that they could no longer be part of the charade that is taking place and illicitly implicating them.

What I want to explore is, if they should have resigned and what might happen next.

The easy bit first. I’ve read (and in Hassan Mashud’s case heard) their justification for the resignation. Yes it is true they were trying their level best to make some sense to the madness that has come down upon us. And, if the applause given to Ali Akber during the recent CPD’s Nagorik Forum is any indication, winning the hearts and minds of the general public. We watched on as the Advisors toiled effortlessly to ensure that meeting of the minds happened in the political arena. They left no stone unturned, no door unknocked or no favours uncalled, to work towards ensuring that an acceptable compromise was reached. They had to deal with two political poles that and best of times were unwieldy with eccentricities of their heads and the temperaments of their leaders. They had to deal with a President and Caretaker Government Head who was not always present either physically or mentally – a man who, proving our worst fears, have turned out not only to be absent of individuality but blatantly shameless as well. They had to deal with the partisan bureaucracy, judiciary, and police force not giving them one inch of leeway. And they had to deal us the “intellectuals”, the “civil society”, and common Abdul in the street who poured over every detail, every look, every utterance, with a magnifying glass. Given these circumstances I am sure you will agree their resignation is justified. But was it wise?

The basic premise for the resignation of each of the four, it has been reported, is that they feel they no longer have an impact on the holding of free and fair elections. Here is where I disagree with them. By resigning, they abdicate their responsibility. They have thrown in the towel and hence they, other than proving to the nation that they are not with the President, are not doing anything more. Are they stopping the election from being rigged? Or for that matter not happening at all? Or is the Army going back to the barracks? Election Commission reforming? Political deadlock being resolved? No to all the above. Being inside, challenging each and every move of the President would have helped the nation far more. I read this phrase somewhere that I thought was brilliant. “Leave no answer unquestioned.” Their job could have been to question, debate, probe, criticise, deliberate, prod, discuss, enquire, scrutinize, explore, disagree, censure, argue, investigate…

But instead they give the President the opportunity to appoint four puppets to take their place. Does that benefit the nation?

As I had indicated earlier in my article the Power of One, [http://nazimfarhan.blogspot.com/2006/11/power-of-one.html#links] the Head of the Caretaker Government does not have any power over and above the other Advisors. Any decision taken by the CTG has to be a consensual one. That means if the Chief of CTG is on one-side and majority of the Advisors are on the other then the latter “win”. The Army having been called in will have to report to the CTG and hence to the majority of the Advisors. Staying inside the CTG the Advisors could have challenged this point through the courts. They could have shown dissent and distance themselves from the President. They could have moulded public opinion and support behind a free and fair election. But now alas here in the cold of the outside they are nothing but just another victim.


Now to “what next”? The difficult answer. Things are changing every hour. What was true a few minutes ago is no longer reliable. And as neither logic nor precedence is being followed in any decision, it is hard to say with any certainty what news we will wake up to tomorrow. So I want predict only two things.

Firstly that a few more (probably 3) Advisors will resign. After making the long-winded argument against Advisor’s resignation, I have to say that now that it has happened, others must follow suit. Otherwise they tactically give the President approval for his action. I believe if a section of the others do come out in support of their fallen comrades it puts beyond a shadow of doubt the illegitimacy of the CTG. If not, being a part of the circus just makes one look as another clown waiting for the ringmasters next command.

Secondly do not underestimate the Army. Over the last few months we have tiptoed around this topic. Some of the leading newspapers have self-censored themselves and not printed anything on indicate the possibility of an Army takeover. (To read what I was saying earlier about the Army’s possible involvement you might want to read my writing New Arithmetic 1+1 = -53 [http://nazimfarhan.blogspot.com/2006/10/new-arithmetic-11-53.html#links] or Swadee Khrab General : Some Answers Questioned [http://nazimfarhan.blogspot.com/2006/09/swadee-khrab-general-some-answers.html]) If my discussion with all and sundry are any indication, an Army intervention is not going to be unpopular. The Generals, I thought, should great fortitude and had not jumped in earlier when at multiple times the occasion had arisen. Now that they are in, what shall they do? If nothing else they need to be brutally just and even handed. They will go after every criminal and every hoodlum at a pace that will leave even the men in black RAB, in a tizzy. But then what? As the law and order is restored they will need to focus on other aspects. It is matter of time before, if not already, the popular sentiment move against the President and the parties he serve. What will the Army do in this case? Who are their lord and master? To whom do they owe allegiance? Do they prop up an unelected partisan President? Or do they throw their might behind the citizens of the nation? Or do they take power themselves?

Well like I said, it is a bit too early to be able to answer these questions. But I can assure you we can never be sure what is written in our fate till it actually happens.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

World Human Wrongs Day

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,
Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Preamble to
the United Nations Universal Declearation of Human Rights
General Assembly resolution 217 A (III)



Today 10th December is the International Human Rights day.

In 1948 few years after the genocide of Jews and other in the hands of Nazi Germany, members of the United Nations with great foresight signed one of the most significant documents in human history. This is a declaration of basic rights of any person irrespective of nationality, religion, gender, age, creed or caste. It gives us the recognition that as a human being I have the right to live a life as fulfilled as my neighbour or for that matter my enemy.

Some 58 years later, it is sad that this is the biggest failure of the UN. Not only do we not have equality in real terms, we do not have in place mechanisms to ensure that we are even moving towards that end. We, the world turn a blind eye to Dafur, Palestine, Israel, Guantanamo, and many such neglected areas of the world. We choose to be ignorant of the plight of our fellow brothers and sisters. We choose to remain silent to the cry for justice. We choose to give up our sense and sensibilities numbed to the reoccurring violence that we see on TV news. We are guilty by association of such crimes. Rape, murder, torture, molestation, infanticide, corruption, slavery, and barbaric hate filled crimes – all are in our hands and on our conscience. And till we stand up and say that we are not for this anymore we will give up a part of our own rights as well.


"dem come for de rasta and you say nothing
dem come from the muslims you say nothing
dem come for the anti-globalist you ay nothing
dem even come for the liberals and you say nothing
dem come for you and will speak for you? who will speak for you, who ?"

Asia Dub Foundation
song “Round Up” from album “Tank”



Link
http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Advertising and me!

With all that is going around now and keeping me busy, I often forget I have an advertising man side of my life as well. (I hope my boss isn't reading this!)

Well here are two articles that came out recently about advertising and my opinions on it.

* From December 3rd's issue of JaiJaiDin:

Exciting Career in Advertising by Nawrin Sultana interviews me

Read : http://www.jaijaidin.com/magazine/view_article.php?News-ID=1744&issue=110&mnav_id=21
{the article is in Bangla and you might need to install fonts}

* From December 1st's issue of New Age Xtra

Has TV advertising finally come of age? by Syed Tashfin Chowdhury quotes me extensively.

Read :
http://www.newagebd.com/2006/dec/01/dec01/xtra_inner3.html

Friday, December 01, 2006

Take Back Bangladesh Concert Pictures



Its over! And despite a late start, missing bands, and electricity failure – I think it was a success. Music was great. By some estimates about 13,000 people turned up (we had expected 500 or so) as did many of the last Caretaker Government Advisers, celebs and “civil” society leaders.

Even if our message got through to a small portion of the crowd I think we’ve made a start. It is now up to us to take this spark and light a fire.

Thank you everyone who came, supported, advised, encouraged, helped and inspired us.

More pictures at http://takebackbangladesh.blogspot.com











Saving Bangladesh

As a part of takebackBangladesh.com's effort to further our cause the Daily Star weekend magazine ran an interview of mine as the spokesperson of TTB. Click on the headline of this post if you want to read it.

Zafar Sobhan has written one of his brilliant op-ed piece on Take Back Bangladesh in today's Daily Star as well. It encapsulates the spirit behind the movement. Do read it. [http://www.thedailystar.net/2006/12/01/d61201020323.htm]

And do remember to come for our concert today at 2:30pm at Rabindra Shorobar Amphitheater, Road 8a, Dhanmondi.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Take Back Bangladesh



Friends, Bangladeshis, Countrymen

There comes a time in our lives where we have to stop for a while and take stock of the situation around us. This is one of those times. I can't believe what is going on. It is surreal. The nation is facing one of its worst crisis of the last two decades. A handful of people from both sides of the political elite is taking our nation down a very destructive path. During this time most of people I talk to say that they do not feel that they have a choice. Isn't that ironic? Our leaders say they are fighting for our democratic rights - but we don't think we have a choice in the matter. Isn't it time we said "Enough is enough." We have had our fill. It is time for a new way to think. It is time for a new vision of our future. It is time for a new leadership.

We want free and fair election. We do not want violence. It is time for us to TAKE BACK BANGLADESH!!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Laughter the Only Medicine

Did you hear, that night after Khaleda’s visit they found a bag of viagra next to Iajuddin’s bed? Don’t worry, he isn’t thinking of screwing the nation. He just uses it to stand up straight.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Read this and get an advice – FREE!

This article appeared on today's<20th November> New Age as an Op-Ed piece under the title of "Is Advertising a Crime"


BdNews24 reported recently:

“GrameenPhone, Aktel sued

Mobile giant GrameenPhone and its rival Aktel were sued Wednesday on charges of deceiving subscribers with advertisements.

Advocate Rafiqul Islam charged GrameenPhone Managing Director Eric Aas and Marketing Director Rubaba Doula Matin with 'deceiving the subscribers by alluring advertisements.'

The lawyers alleged mobile operators run 'alluring advertisements' on newspapers and televisions and 'deceive' the general people to make windfall profits.

They also alleged that the operators in an advertisement printed and aired on November 7 offered special prizes for subscribers.

Subscribers spending between Tk 300 and Tk 500 will be in with a change [sic] to win a camera phone through lottery, Plasma TV if they spend Tk 501 to Tk 1000, Japanese car for Tk 1001 to Tk 3000 and an apartment for Tk 3000 and beyond.

The lawyers said such advertisements are illegal as they violate the Section 295 (b) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.”


Condensed

Isn't that the point of advertising, to allure consumers to buy products or services on offer?

As most who read this blog know, I work in advertising. So I guess I am a guilty party as well. And this is my defence.

I know it is fancy to blame advertising for the evils of consumerism. I was shocked to learn that my young nephew at a junior class in a fancy Australian school in Dhaka was taught that advertising was evil and all of it is a lie. And often in polite company I am asked, "but do you actually believe what an ad says?" Isn’t it easy to make advertising the scapegoat for all the flaws of our desire? After all if you did not see the ad for the shimmering new mobile phone you might not ever want one.

But let us examine some of the finer points of this notion. We advertising professionals believe that we promote competition and hence benefit consumers in the end. Without the ad fuelled marketing blitz would call rates have dropped in the manner it has recently? And it is not only limited to consumer advertising. Bangladesh's success story in population control is in a large part attributable to the superb work done by SMC [Social Marketing Company - the owners of Raja, Maya, Hero, Nordette, Minicon, Sensation and Panther] and their advertising agencies (yes, we are one of them).

Advertising we believe gives a consumer choice. I could feel thirsty and want to drink Coke. Or Pepsi. Or RC Cola. Or Uro Cola. Or Pran Cola. Or Suncrest. Or Mecca Cola. Or Mojo (our client). If there were no advertising, then how would the consumers know the bevy of alternatives available?

Advertising encourages better products. I still remember when Mr. Mustafa of Kollol Industries came to us first with the idea of facial tissues in the early 90s, we secretly wondered, "who in Bangladesh would pay money and use this product?" Good sense prevailed and the brand Fay was born. After years of successful advertising, today it is the market leader in a vibrant product category with many brands. The quality of the product too has not stayed static. Faced with competition, clients diligently invest in R&D of products, and to use an advertising parlance "new, improved" versions come to market in a regular stream. Let me remind you of the boom in advertising that started in mid to late 90s. Out of nowhere came this "halal shaban" [religiously pure soap] and obliterated the market leader till that point of time. Consumer research showed that while the "halal" was a hook for people to try the product for the first time, they stuck on because consumer's felt that it was a far superior product than the market leader Lux soap. Then started the real fight. Brand managers at Lux began rebuilding the brand and more importantly the product. Since then the soap market has been highly competitive. It is true both on advertising and product quality side. It can be argued that for its retail price, soaps available in Bangladesh today are probably the best value in the world.

Abraham Lincoln had famously said "you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time". I think at heart honest Abe was an advertising man (politicians being practitioners of the same profession!). What he said is a maxim of advertising today. A consumer will believe you only once when you give an attribute to a product that it does not deliver. I might “allure” you with the promise of long shiny hair or to make you attractive to the opposite sex but if it does not deliver on those promises will you ever buy the product again? As a proof I give you all the miracle diet pills in my medicine cabinet.

Now of course there might be dishonest vendors out there who will abuse the trust a consumer puts in them. But let me promise you this. On the long run their product is not here to stay and they are nothing but con artists. Every industry has these charlatans. But just because a quack prescribes you lizard tail wonder drug does not mean that the whole medical profession is a sham.

So to come back to the central premise of the lawsuit against Grameen Phone, did they say anything that is not true? Well actually no. If you see the ad they are basically saying that to celebrate their 10 years of service they will give away some gifts to users of their product. Now will they do it? Of course! Grameen Phone is no fly by night operator. They are amongst Bangladesh’s most respectable and professional companies. (Confession time: they too are clients though not for this particular campaign). The problem it seems that they have violated Section 295 (b) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Okay let me spare you the task of calling up your lawyer friends. This section, please bear with me, states: “Offering of prize in connection with trade, etc – Whoever offers, or undertakes to offer, in connection with any trade or business or sale of any commodity, any prize, reward or other similar consideration, by whatever name called, whether in money or kind, against any coupon, ticket, number or figure, or by any other device, as an inducement or encouragement to trade or business or to the buying of any commodity, or for the purpose of advertisement or popularising any commodity, and whoever publishes any such offer, shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six month, or with fine, or with both.”

Well I am not a lawyer (and needed to read the above more times than I care to confess) but the gist of it is quite simple. One cannot offer any gifts that will entice you to purchase a product. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, strictly speaking advertising is illegal. Or atleast giving something for something (e.g. buy a powder and get a soap free); or more of something (20% more shoe polish in each bottle); or even a price discount (Tk 2 off the next purchase of x washing powder) is a strict no-no. Does that make sense? Does the consumer, for who this law was enacted in 1965, benefit?

“The times they are a-changin,” sang iPod’s latest brand ambassador Bob Dylan. Forty years on, this law should no longer remain in the Penal Code. Matter of fact most of us criminal advertisers have devised loopholes to get around this speed breaker. Unfortunately the only ones being disadvantaged are the consumers, as it ultimately limits the benefits that they would get. I mean if Grameen Phone wants to give away an apartment or two, who’s to complain? Well hopefully, the subscribers of the other telcos. And if that means they too give away apartments in Dhaka then at least a handful of subscribes benefit. The marketing companies are not holding a gun to our heads and telling us to buy their product (or in this case talk longer). We are doing it on our own free will. Advertising encourages us to purchase the product from where we will benefit the most. We are basically making a choice with our wallets. I might decide that to use Grameen Phone or I may decide not to. And if I do decide to avail of their services and in the process win myself an apartment I am not complaining. Would you?

In today’s ever-changing fast paced globally synergized advertising campaign world a product cannot afford to stay chained to obsolete and arcane laws. We need to give our marketers the freedom to develop and execute effective consumer promotions. And our consumers the freedom to benefit from these offers. Time has come for the Penal Code to go through a relaunch and drop article 295[b]. As the famous ad commanded, “Just do it!”

Take Back Bangladesh



Today is TBB day. It is a day when we pledge that we will take back Bangladesh from the path of destruction. Free & fair elections are our inalienable right. It is up to each and every citizen to stand up for it.

Another of our basic right is that under Article 32 of the Bangladesh Constitution, “No person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty”. So any action, however well meaning, that takes away our liberty to live a normal life should be rejected. We should not live in fear.

Today we take a small step that we hope with your support will become a giant leap!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Wear Black Badge

We all want free and fair elections.

It is widely agreed that neutrality of the Caretaker Administration and Election Commission is a pre-requisite for free and fair elections.

The Chief of the Caretaker Government, it appears is neither non-partisan nor neutral, and the conduct of the Election Commission has hitherto been shocking.

At the same time while many in the Nation agrees with the 14-party agenda in regards to securing free and fair elections, their destructive methods have precluded public participation on a mass scale.

Yet, we wish to participate in the destiny of Bangladesh. We want free and fair elections.

It is time that we the general public take a stand.

Back in 1969-71, wearing a small rectangular BLACK BADGE on the arm or chest became a powerful symbol of protest against the vile political machinations of the Pakistan Government. Virtually everybody wore it. The BLACK BADGE expressed the single-mindedness of the people in their quest for justice.

It is once again time that we the general public take a stand.

Starting November 20th, 2006 wear a BLACK BADGE on your arm or chest, or fly a BLACK FLAG on your roofs to protest against election engineering and also the violence that is being done in our name. And encourage others to do the same.

Free and Fair Elections is one of the basic entitlements we have as a citizen of this great nation. It is now upon us to protect it.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Milton Friedman: 1912 – 2006




“A society that puts equality...ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom.”



What Friederich Engels said of Karl Marx upon his death should really now be said of Friedman, that today "the greatest living thinker ceased to think."*

This is a man for whom my admiration while growing up was more than that of other teenagers’ for Marilyn Monroe. The 1976 Nobel Prize winner in Economics is to a laissez-faire capitalist the equivalent to Bob Dylan is to the flower-power peaceniks; or a on a more comparable level – equivalent to Karl Marx to the Communists.

Milton Friedman was an intellectual tiger. The father of monetarism. Leader of the powerful “Chicago School” of economic thought. Based on his theories the “trickle-down” Reaganomics of the roaring 80s fuelled growth and globalization in an unprecedented pace. It led to the fall of communism and birth of free trade.

I am not going to try today to either explain his economics or try to debate them. All I want to say is that a person who had a profound influence on our world (and do me personally) is dead. A legend in his own time, a legend for all time.

Some more of his quotes

“Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow men.

Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.

The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem

A society that puts equality...ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom.

I’m in favor of legalizing drugs. According to my values system, if people want to kill themselves, they have every right to do so. Most of the harm that comes from drugs is because they are illegal.

Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.

The Great Depression, like most other periods of severe unemployment, was produced by government mismanagement rather than by any inherent instability of the private economy.”



The following link takes you to the "autobiography" Milton Friedman had writen for the Nobel Committee:

http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/1976/friedman-autobio.html


For more information / tribute read:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Friedman
http://www.ideachannel.com/Friedman.htm
http://www.hoover.org/pubaffairs/releases/4667846.html
http://www.mises.org/story/2393
http://www.adamsmith.org/index.php/main/heroes/select/Milton%20Friedman/
http://www.cato.org/
http://www.freakonomics.com/blog/2006/11/16/sad-news-milton-friedman-has-died/

*Grateful to http://www.willisms.com/ for both the picture and this quote.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Free Subscription

I often think, who really want to hear what I have to say? Well apperantly some of you do. I've been requested by many to keep informing them whenever I update the blog.

Well for those who get bombarded with my emails and sms, I say, fear not. There is an easier way of doing this. In the panel on the right you will see the option of subscribing to this blog. That is everytime I update, they will send you an email. (Before you shout spam! - not more than one time a day and your email id is not sold to anyone trying to sell any wonder drugs).

Sign up and allow me to bore you about life, politics, Bangladesh and other "nonsense" I care about!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Are we fighting for Democracy?

This election aside, true democracy will not come till there is independence in the parties themselves. Both AL & BNP will need to have elections to party posts. MP nominations need to come from the constituency level. And MPs should have the right to vote against their party in Parliament. Otherwise in the “winner-take-all-my-netri-is-always-right” system we have currently, Iajuddin is right, it is Presidential. I would even go as far as to claim it to be dictatorial.

People get the government they elect! And they can only elect the people who run. Doc Y, CPD and the rest can go on crying “elect clean candidate” but till we are willing to take a stand and contest in elections and get involved in politics there will not be any change. We will just replace one corrupt and ineffective government with another.

Power also needs to devolve to the people. Rajiv Gandhi championed the Panchayat Raj in India. We need to do this here. Development work and local administration should basically happen where it all happens – the villages. A working body of Union Chairmen plus the UNO (Upazila Nirbahi Officer) should decide on how to best use the development funds available to the various unions in an upazila. And for God’s sake they should arbitrate on petty constituency level issues (e.g. who stole who’s goat) and not allow the MP to be involved in everything. Our honourable MPs should be free to be honourable. Their role is to lay down the vision for the nation; the laws that effect us; the guidelines of governance (budget, policies, et.al) and to act as auditors of the local government.

Until these two fundamental changes occur all these oborodhs, rallies, processions, backroom manoeuvring, constitution readings, talk-shows, articles in newspapers, blogs, debates, bothi-logha-kanchi, fiery speeches, posters on the wall, politically motiveate killings, white papers, corruption charges, mean nought, nada, nothing!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Power of One

As the President Professor Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed appointed himself the head of the Non-party Caretaker Government, many cried foul. No intelligent interpretation of our constitution would put the President at the head of the caretaker government (CG) without exhausting a bevy of other appropriate alternatives. However convoluted his reasoning may have been, AL showed restraint and gave him the benefit of the doubt. The nation gave their President a chance to prove himself to be neutral and rise over the petty politics that had gripped the nation. We reasoned that mild mannered educationist will appoint an able body of advisers and they, like their predecessors before, would turn out to be impartial and more so, effective.

The Chief of CG (CCG), as the constitution allows him appointed 10 respected members of the society as advisors. With the exception of a few, the “wow” factor it seemed was missing from the line up. It was widely reported that the advisors were drawn up from a list submitted by the major parties. While the question was raised, about if they met the Constitutional provision of being “non-party”; the society, and to its credit the main political groups accepted the choice and hoped that this will end most of the controversy in this regard. Unfortunately when we thought it could not get any worse, it did! A few questioned the composition itself. Why did the business community not have a representative? The citizenship of a certain advisor was questioned. And then it got a whole lot more serious.

Common citizens quickly complained that the Advisors did not show the energy levels expected from them. Of course they did not have time to do the homework required for the job and therefore took some time to find their “sea legs”. But it seemed that they were kept in the dark about many of the decisions that the constitution entrusted to them to take. The President, it was obvious, was politically too inexperienced to differentiate his role as head of the nation to that of his duty as the CCG. Worse, accusation levelled against the Bangabhaban was that the President’s politically appointed minders were calling the shots. They were present at advisory council meetings and refused to heed opposition demands to step aside. Any person even slightly knowledgeable of the workings of the government could easily point out that there was backroom politicking happening in scales that has not seen in our young democracy in many years.

The difference between the CCG and rest of his advisors was soon out in the open. Many believe that the advisory council painted themselves into a corner when they openly said that the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) had to go. While it bought them time from the AL, political manoeuvring by the President’s secretaries ensured that this could not be translated into actionable deeds. And then out of the blue came the most damning action of all. The Home Secretary without the knowledge of the CG (it is not known if the CCG was aware of this move) attempted to call in the Army. How could such a bold and potentially course altering decision be taken without consulting the CG? More so when they had met that very same day? More than a few questions are raised. Did the President / CCG know? Did he comprehend the gravity of the action? Was there someone else calling the shots? And the most worrisome of the questions, was the constitution itself violated?

While I cannot answer the first few of these questions as I am not privy to what goes on in the great mind of the President, I believe the last is easy to dissect. The Article 58B [3] states “The executive power of the Republic shall, during the period mentioned in clause [1], be exercised, subject to the provisions of article 58D [1], in accordance with this Constitution, by or on the authority of the Chief Adviser and shall be exercised by him in accordance with the advice of the Non Party Care-taker Government.” Basically this clause states that the executive power (i.e. the responsibility of day to day functioning of government) rests with the Chief Adviser (as opposed to the President) and can only be done with the agreement of the remaining of the Advisors. “…in accordance with the advice of the Non Party Care-taker Government.” These words are very important. “Advice” in this case is not same to the one my wife takes when she asks which sari she should wear. This “advice” is not open to acceptance or rejection. This “advice” is the legal wording that says, “Must do”.

Now I know, some might be thinking “hey, the CCG is the same as the PM in a normal time. So isn’t the PM’s wish supreme? Could she not have disagreed with rest of her cabinet on a topic and still come out on top?” Well that logic, though enticing, breaks down in two counts. In a Parliamentary system the PM is Primus Inter Pares – Latin for First Amongst Equals. That means the PM is one of the many ministers of the cabinet, who while having the overall responsibility of the co-ordination of the cabinet does not supersede remaining of the members of that body. It is another matter that in our fragile democracy PM acts as the defacto President of yesteryear with complete authority.

More importantly one needs to look at the clause giving executive power to the PM during normal time of functioning. Article 55[2] states “The executive power of the Republic shall, in accordance with this Constitution, be exercised by or on the authority of the Prime Minister.” Full Stop! None of the “advice” of the council of minister business. She has, according to our constitution, the last word on what is correct for her Government to take. Of course she has to get it ratified by the Parliament but she and she alone bears the ultimate responsibility of any government decision or action. And if her ministers do not like it, she has the liberty of firing them.

That is not the case with the advisors. The President or the CCG has no authority to remove them (except in extra-ordinary circumstances). And while the CCG is the person who chooses the body of advisors, once they take the oath, their roles are equal.

So here we stand, the CCG has to work in accordance to the collective (or at least majority) wisdom of the Advisory council of which he is another member. This body is entrusted by the Constitution and by the nation to carry out the responsibilities of government. The onus is now on the Non-party Caretaker Government to take responsibility for their action. As Dr. Yunus said, it is time to be strong and hold steady. The framers of our constitution (and of its amendments) did not give complete executive power to the unelected CCG but to the body of eminent members of the society. It is now upto them to show leadership. It is upto them take the necessary steps required to faithfully execute the decisions that will lay course to our prosperous future. They cannot hide behind the excuse of powerful bureaucracy or Bangabhaban bullies. If someone puts up a roadblock or if someone believes he is above the Constitution, it is within the power of the CG to take that person to task. There is no need to be afraid. Hold steady, and no one can move you from the path of righteousness. It reminds me of the Bangla saying “Doshay milay kori kaaj, hari jitee nahi laaj”. (A rough English equivalent being “United we stand…”)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Enayetullah Khan : 1939 - 2005



"The state of non-happening is once again strung together by the beads of rhetoric. But it no longer sparkles as in the olden days to cover the dark patches of national failures.

Nothing possibly could be worse than what it is today. Only doom can beat it all. Hence optimism fights back in a pitch dark tunnel of an unrewarding politics that holds little light at the end of it. Or it may as well be a blind tunnel with no way to go. We are just in the middle of it singly, collectively, and as a nation.

If the flower of democracy has wilted before it could blossom, we have no tears to shed for it. Because it hardly existed even in its distorted frame."

Weekly Holiday, March 1975


Today is one year anniversary of the late great journalist Enayetullah Khan

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Dr. Y + Dr. K + Dr. B = ?

Recently someone asked me the following question:

“how do u reckon the chance of Dr. Younus, the 'man of the moment' in Bangladesh, joining hands with old horses like Dr. Kamal and Dr. B. Chowdhury???? And, what could be the result in that case, any idea???”

I'd like to split my answer into three. 1. Will it happen? 2. What if it happened? 3. What probably will happen?

Well the first answer is quite easy. Not likely. Though given current turns that politics in Bangladesh have taken, cannot be ruled out.

The second answer is somewhat more complex. To understand it I think we have to analyze each of the components of the equation.

Dr. Y: riding high after the Nobel. Plus has tremendous amount of goodwill without any major political baggage. He, I believe, can galvanize a lot of popular support. And if he made the request, many "clean" candidates will take the plunge. But so far he has disappointed me personally. Over the last few months (since his Anti Corruption Commission article in early '05 - my criticism in my blog) he has made many calls and inspired others without necessarily leading from the front. As a leader you need to be at head of the charge. His ideas are great but we don't need ideas as much as we need someone to take the reins and say this is where we are going. Dr Y has failed there.

Dr. K: a man with impeccable mental ability. He is someone who is articulate in his thought and decisive in his judgment. The biggest mistake he made was forming Gono Forum. Though I was a supporter of the GF in the '96 elections, I never thought they had a chance. Dr. K would have been better as an "elder statesman". He could have been like a political ombudsman; one who could be the nation's conscience. We would go to him at times of crisis like this or when we needed guidance or a goal. Unfortunately he is now seen to be a small partial player.

Dr. B: another articulate man. He has enough personal charisma to charm the voters. Over the years has built up excellent organizational skill and experience to run a grassroots political party. He has enough cache with the international community, civil society and general mass to have pulled himself above petty politics and take a stand on issues. His initial gambit of putting out political posters with Bhasani, Mujib and Zia was a marketing / PR genius! Unfortunately it has been downhill since then. He has failed to build his party. Why, he has failed to appeal to even the middle class intellectuals who are looking for leadership. He has failed to show what he stands for. The recent LDP is a good initiative though they still haven't given us clarity about their philosophy and guiding principles. While LDP makes a big thing about the corruption of BNP's Hawa Bhaban crowd, they have amongst them the notoriously dishonest Jahanara Begum and morally corrupt Alamgir Kabir.

On paper Dr. Y + Dr. K + Dr. B = winning combination. But in reality I think it has the potential of blowing up in our faces. Or even worse - dying without even a whimper!

If we can get Dr. Y to join active politics, why do we need the other two? They bring baggage that some of the Gen71 (amongst others) will find that they cannot live with. Dr. Y himself is good enough to bring moral strength and fortitude to build an honest, efficient and effective third force. Just think about it. If he called you and said "I'm looking for people who will join my new crusade, will you accept?" I don't know about you, but I will be willing to give up my world to stand behind him. And I know hundreds if not thousands other who will as well.

Dr. K + Dr. B did try the formula without the "magic" ingredient. But it did not create a stir.

The answer to the third question is that Dr. K & Dr. B have already have understanding of the political maneuvering need till the next elections. Dr. K will go back to the AL for support and Dr. B to LDP. Hence it looks as if LDP and AL will have a pre-election agreement. The basis of this agreement I think will be that AL will agree not to put any candidates in 25-30 constituency where LDP candidates have a chance of winning. LDP will also run campaigns in another, say, 100 odd seats where they will play the role of "spoiler". That is they will split the old BNP votes and in-turn allow the AL candidate to win. Do remember that the winning margin in more than 150 seats in the 2001 election was in single digits. Even a small 4% swing of voters away from the BNP can lead to a loss of these seats. [For election analysis see http://nazimkamranchoudhury.blogspot.com]

Dr. Y in the meantime will not do too much except keep saying that we need "clean" candidates in the election.

Dr. Y + Dr. B + Dr. K = could be, would be, should be!

Why this round actually goes to AL?

I give AL the upper hand in the parlour politics is because they have come out better after flinging all the mud.

a. Hasina, Jalil and the others were very vocal that they did not want the President to be CTG. Hence when they are now “reluctantly” agreeing people will take it as a goodwill gesture from the AL.

b. Article 58e states: “Certain provisions of the Constitution to remain ineffective. Notwithstanding anything contained in articles 48(3), 141A(1) and 141C(1) of the Constitution, during the period the Non-Party Care-taker government is functioning, provisions in the constitution requiring the President to act on the advice of the Prime Minister or upon his prior counter-signature shall be ineffective.”
The above-mentioned clause hence allows the President not (yes that is right – NOT) to listen to the advice of the Caretaker Government! “…provisions in the constitution requiring the President to act on the advice of the Prime…shall be ineffective” Effectively what this means is that the President practicality exercise supreme power when it comes to the functioning of the Government.

c. So isn’t it better that we are aware that the President could be a party stooge now, rather than he doing something behind the scenes to jeopardise a free and fair elections?

d. They now have the reform of the Election Commission. (which it seemed they had to give up earlier as they “won” the CTG head!) How can the President now not change MA Aziz and the others, and appear neutral?

e. How has the BNP done? They seem like people who bullied the President into this. We do not have any newspaper, experts or civil society person (other than the obvious BNP people) saying the President did not take liberties with the constitution! And most report backroom politicking by the BNP as a reason for this.

f. Viz a viz the Army. I agree it is still too early to call. The scenario does exist where the President will not agree to Election Commission reform. AL then will start its agitations again. And the gloves will come off. Army has to step into the scene to restore law and order. But they cannot but remain neutral. Hence come out against the worst of BNP activists as well.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The AL Response

As most of you must be knowing by now, President Iajazuddin has decided to name himself the head of the CTG despite an AL plea for him not to. His interpretaion of the constitution (in advice of the partisan Attorney General) can not hold up in any court and the events leading to the decision quite untransperant and dubious.

Like rest of the country I expected the AL to be crying from every rooftop. But I must say I am quite surprised and impressed by the AL reaction. Their response was very measured. It was following the argument that "we can not agree to the process through which the head of the CTG has been chosen but we are willing to give it a go and see if the President can be impartial.”

This has done a few things for them:

1. Shows AL in a positive light. They seemed politically wise and compromising
2. They were practical and showed that violence is not their only tool
3. Gives them bargaining power to have a strong say in selection of the caretaker advisors, and to extract other compromises. (eg reform of the Election Commission)
4. Has not pushed the AL to the corner viz a viz the Army

I am sure over the next few days we will see AL getting the upper hand in the political process.

The mood in general in Dhaka is that “yes the President has used a very Clintonesque argument in naming himself to the position, but hey, give him a chance to prove himself.” Onus is now on the President to rise to the occasion. The AL (and most of media/ civil society) will no doubt now putting everything the President does under a microscope. And if the choice of the other advisors is correct, then the room for one-sided manoeuvrability on his part is severely curtailed.

I also hope (though do not believe) that the AL shows such maturity when it comes to events leading up to the elections.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Update on Who's Next

The latest update/ rumour is that the President is now promoting his own name as the next head of the CTG under Clause 6 of Article 58.

Rightly this is not acceptable by the AL.

If we are to look at the abovementioned article we will find:
“Notwithstanding anything contained in this Chapter, if the provisions of clauses (3), (4) and (5) cannot be given effect to, the President shall assume the functions of the Chief Adviser of the Non-Party Care-taker Government in addition to his own functions under this Constitution.”

So the President can be the head of the CTG. BUT and this is a big but, he can only do so if “provisions of clauses (3), (4) and (5) cannot be given effect to”.

Clause (3) talks of all the Chief Justices
Clause (4) talks of all the Judges of the Appelate Court
Clause (5) talks of a concensus candidate.

So without asking the next in line (ie Mahmudul Amin Choudhury) and those after him, the President cannot jump to Clauses (5) or (6).

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Who Next?

Following is my first "guest" blog entry for www.Dristipath.org/blog

Bangladesh can take a collective sigh of relief; Justice Hassan is embarrassed enough for him decline to take charge of the CTG. Though late, I think good sense prevailed on the good Justice. He was in a no win situation. I am not saying that he would be a bad CTG head (most indicate that he would be a capable leader) but look at the scenario here. What if BNP won an election under him, would AL ever agree? And in the meantime where would the law and order situation go?

So the question begging to be asked is who next? Well I don’t see what the fuss is all about. The Constitution is very clear on this topic.

“The President shall appoint as Chief Adviser the person who among the retired Chief Justices of Bangladesh retired last and who is qualified to be appointed as an Adviser under this article:
Provided that if such retired Chief Justice is not available or is not willing to hold the office of Chief Adviser, the President shall appoint as Chief Adviser the person who among the retired Chief Justices of Bangladesh retired next before the last retired Chief Justice.”


Article 58c (3) Bangladesh Constitution.

The first paragraph basically points to Justice Hassan. But paragraph two states that if “he is not willing to hold the office” then we move to the next retired Chief Justice.

Here lies the confusion. The next retired Chief Justice (ie one before Justice Hassan) as it happens has passed away. So different people are looking at different interpretations. But this confusion can be put to rest if the following clause is read.

Article 58c (4)
“If no retired Chief Justice is available or willing to hold the office of Chief Adviser, the President shall appoint as Chief Adviser the person who among the retired Judges of the Appellate Division retired last and who is qualified to be appointed as an Adviser under this article:”

As far as I remember English. The phrase “if no retired Chief Justice” means that we have to exhaust the list of all other retired Chief Justice [given he is younger than 72 years – as per Article 58c (7)] before we head into the list of retired Judges of the Appellate Division. (ie before Justice Aziz’s name can come into play)

In this case a gentleman by the name of Justice Mahmudul Amin Choudhury is the next constitutional choice. As far as reports go AL is okay with him. Shiek Hasina has stated this without naming him, saying AL will agree to the next constitutionally ordained person. Supreme Court Bar Association plus many of the “Civil Society” seems to be in favour. It is now for BNP to “agree”.

It will then be upto Justice Choudhury now to appoint his “cabinet”. Article 58c(8) states:
"The Advisers shall be appointed by the President on the advice of the Chief Adviser."

And collectively their main responsibility will be to as per Article 58d (1) & (2):
“Functions of Non-Party Care-taker Government:
(1) The Non-Party Care-taker Government shall discharge its functions as an interim government and shall carry on the routine functions of such government with the aid and assistance of persons in the services of the Republic; and, except in the case of necessity for the discharge of such functions its shall not make any policy decision.
(2) The Non-Party Care-taker Government shall give to the Election Commission all possible aid and assistance that may be required for bolding the general election of members of parliament peacefully, fairly and impartially.”


An interesting point to note is Article 58e
“Certain provisions of the Constitution to remain ineffective
Notwithstanding anything contained in articles 48(3), 141A(1) and 141C(1) of the Constitution, during the period the Non-Party Care-taker government is functioning, provisions in the constitution requiring the President to act on the advice of the Prime Minister or upon his prior counter-signature shall be ineffective.”


The above-mentioned clause hence allows the President not (yes that is right – NOT) to listen to the advice of the Caretaker Government! “…provisions in the constitution requiring the President to act on the advice of the Prime…shall be ineffective” Effectively what this means is that the President practicality exercise supreme power when it comes to the functioning of the Government.


Source: The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. {As modified up to 31st December 1998}
Issued by the Government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Third Wave!

As predicted in my article "1+1=-53" Oli has bolted from BNP taking with him many disgruntled old gaurds. Take my word more will join soon.

Most likely LDP will have a tacit support of the AL in the up coming election. They will most likely contest in 20 - 25 seats, with the aim of winning 12-15 and ensuring BNP looses in the others!

I hope that good sense prevails with LDP and they will play the part of a responsible opposition in the next Parliament. If Nazim Kamran's predictions are correct (there is no reason it is not) AL will win a substantial majority. BNP in most likelihood will boycott the parliament. In this scenerio the MPs of LDP can become the "shadow" government and serve as check and balance to AL's treasury bench.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

This or That

My comments on the www.drishtipat.org blog about Dr Yunus joining politics. [press headlines of this post to take you to the main arguement]

Some of the arguments here seem to stem from the “either-or” school of logic. We need either to be in Bangladesh or be a part of the diaspora. We should be either praising Doc Y in DS or writing in NYT. We should either be in awe of Grameen Bank or we need to call it a “loan shark / Kubliwala”. Either Doc Y joins politics or runs GB.

I never understood the idiom “have ones cake and eat it to”. I always (wrongly) thought that I need to have the cake to eat it!

Why am I rambling? Well I think we need to do both.

Naeem is absolutely right we need to focus our efforts internationally to bring “Bangladesh” to a more positive light in international media. But at the same time we need to reinforce the “greatness” of the Nobel Prize win to the local audience.

While it is true that we need to reverse the brain drain from Bangladesh. Our citizens (hyphenated or not) have a pivotal part to play in the nation’s development from where they are now. NY, London, LA, Dubai, KL, Moscow – wherever! You can be across the world and help the nation so don’t give into the “etho jodi dorod, thahole Bangladesh eshe kaaj koro” logic. It is by people who are so intellectually poor that they just can’t fathom the fact that our progress is a joint-global-every-person-everywhere-for-the-nation role! You guys who are out of Dhaka are doing a swell job!

To come to the point – Doc Y’s role in politics I think should not to be limited to CTG. The responsibility is not his alone. Moreover constitutionally he is not allowed to head the CTG. I don’t believe that we should take decisions based on one person. It sets a bad precedence.

The role that I see for Doc Y is to lead a “people’s movement” and head an National Coalition Government comprised of civil society, bureaucrats, armed force, NGOs, business, political representatives and the youth. The mandate of this NCG will be to “clean-up” the current system of government and put in the basic road map for growth (aka CDP’s Citizen’s Charter). After 18-24 months they will hand over power to a democratically elected parliament.

After that Doc Y can take a role of a political “ombudsman”. Or as Kawser suggested, form a political think tank / institution to help promote the virtues of clean politics.

(BTW Naeem – how about doing a comic character with the hero as Doc Y the fighter of evil? Aimed at educating Bangladesh’s population about democracy, government and their role in it).

Let us have our pitha and eat it too!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Dr. Yunus launching a platform?

In a recent Salam Dhaka blog (pls click the headline of this blog to take you there) THE question was asked. My answer was

While I do not think Dr. Yunus should come into active polittics, it is time for us to form a "National Colition Government". The NCG will be like a caretaker government with a longer mandate (say 12 to 24 months). Their responsiblitity will be to ensure three things

1. Spring cleaning of the government mechinary. While this is a task that is long and difficult task, they can lay the seeds of process
2. Facilitate a re-look and modification of the constitution so that all political parties are on board
3. Conduct a free and fair election at end of this period.

Dr. Yunus can head the NCG.


I further added

You see if you want to go swimming you got to get wet! The role Doc Y should take is not going to be unpopular. In recent surveys more than half of the electorate says that they have lost faith in the current political parties. They are looking for a viable "third force". The CPD/DailyStar/Prothom Alo/Channel i supported Citizen's Task Force is speaking of us pressurising the current political parties to nominate “clean candidates”. I can bet you my collection of Kaniz Shuborna CDs that is not going to happen. If we want change we must do more than just talk about it. We need to get into politics and change the system.

Now I am not suggesting that Doc starts his political party. That is the mistake Dr. Kamal and Dr. B Chowdhury did. He ofcourse needs to play the role of the political mentor in the future. But now as the head of the citizen’s run NCG (National Coalition Government) he can get in for 12 to 24 months with mandate to clean up shop and help for transition to a democratically elected popular government.


Some good discussions going on at Salam Dhaka on this topic. Have a look.

Incidentally you might want to look at an article I wrote a long time ago called "Repentance of a Sinner". It was in reply to Doc Y's dream of being the chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission.

So what do you think Doc Y should do?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Call me - Don Farhan!



Introducing Ayaan "Rocky II" Munshi - son of Ayesha Dada and Raquib Fakrul. AND more importantly my Godson! :)

We have big plans for little Ayaan. (Can't tell them here as his mom and dad might find out and spoil the party!) But let's say it involves fast cars and even faster females! Hah haa! Just Kidding -Faiza!

But seriously, let us pray that Ayaan grows up to become a Bangladeshi who will contribute positively to his country and her citizens.

Ayaan: "May Allah give you strength, courage, wisdom and fortitude to be a great human being. I am sure you will bring much laughter, joy and happiness to everyone your life touches. And most importantly I know this little bar off Patpong...." - your Godfather

Monday, October 09, 2006

The New Arithmetic: 1+1= -53

This is the "director's cut" of my article that has appeared in today's Daily Star. The printed version is available if you click on the title of this post. Happy reading



Basic principle of democracy is the right to choose. Our vote is an indication of who we want to represent us in the Parliament and hence in the decision process that govern our life. The biggest learning that I have taken out of Mr. Nazim Kamran Choudhury’s recent article [Prothom Alo & The Daily Star 6th October 2006] is that the vote base of all our major (and not so major) political parties have eroded to an extent that “undecided” voters account for up to 53% of the electorate. This figure is apparently reflected in many such opinion polls. For the first time in Bangladesh’s young democratic life we are heading into a poll that in theory is going to be decided in the polling booths.

It does not take a political pundit to analyse the rational behind this phenomena. We the voters have lost all faith in our politicians. The current leadership, which have been, pretty much ruling the roost for the last four decades have allowed their parties to become bankrupt of political ideology. To a common voter neither party offers any clear-cut choice. Hence while BNP has lost this support base so has the Awami League. The AL, though not in power, has seen their vote base almost half from 40% to mere 23%. So when majority Bangladesh’s electorate step into the polling booth next the choice will be between for lesser of the two evils.

As Mr. Choudhury predicts, AL might come out on the top with a very clear mandate indeed. One however fears that they will translate this victory as an indication of support for their politics. Far from it. The result will only be a clarion call of people’s anger with the incumbent’s notoriously inept handling of governance and the economy. The voters are not saying that AL will be better masters, rather that BNP will not.

I am an advertising practitioner. In my job it is paramount for us to find out the unique positioning for my product, making it stand out to the consumer. I cannot think of any brand that has been successful in marketing itself by saying “you have no other choice but to use me!” AL seems hell bent in doing just that. Since being sent to Jatiya Sangsad with an increased vote base in 2001, they have not played role of a constructive opposition. If we are to look at their policy in the last 5 years, it has been mostly based on removing a democratically elected government through street protests. Can anyone tell me what has their policy stand been on Education, IT, Tax Ombudsman, Environment, FDI, or anything other than mis-guided notion that BNP party has no legitimacy to rule? In a parliamentary democracy the role of the opposition is to be that of a government in waiting. Their shadow cabinet’s main job is to critique (as opposed to only criticise) the Treasury bench. They are to match policy to policy, statement to statement, and paper to paper the Government on all fronts. AL has failed in that job. Now I am not at all saying the Government has been remotely capable of handling their responsibilities. But come election how do I judge which box to put my seal on?

Ideologically, conventional wisdom says that AL is left of centre in their political belief. And that BNP is right leaning. However if you are to analyse that manifesto of the two parties, it will be difficult to decipher any difference between the two. If you are to look at the speeches of the leadership of the two parties when they are not spilling venom against their bitter rivals, you will see an uncanny similarity in their thought process. It seems that we have entered into an Igloo Ice Cream Parlour and all the choice we have is vanilla or vanilla.

AL today has been given a historic chance. Given the fact that 10 million more people will come into suffrage by next elections, AL’s mistakes of mid-70s is no longer a deciding factor in voting for (or against) them. The slate has been wiped clean. If AL can show maturity, if they can show that they actually have sound political motives, if they can show they have the positive roll to play in our future, the mandate that they get when the election results are announced will give them the foundation to rule the nation into the foreseeable future.

There is as always another way of looking at the “new arithmetic” that Mr. Choudhury wrote about. In advertising we always look out for a consumer need-gap that can be filled. Many brands have been extremely successful exploiting this demand by tailoring their message to suit this need. Our political arena offers such an opportunity. We have lost faith with the two brand leaders. We do not believe in their message. Look at it this way; say if the leading brand of shirt is no different from the second brand, and if both the shirt brands are talking about fashion while their buyers want comfort. Then is it not the perfect time for a third brand to come in and say “we are the most comfortable brand?” What I am getting to is that the field is wide open for a third party to emerge to fill the void left by our current political parties.

So who will bell this cat? Let us look at our usual suspects:

Jatiya Party and General Ershad: JP’s vote bank has according to Mr. Choudhury’s survey reduced from 7 to only 4%. They have become a regional party without the political capital to become a phoenix.

Jamaat: JI too has been reduced to oblivion. Mr. Choudhury predicts but one seat in the next elections to them. It seems the party is caught between a rock and a hard place. Their fundamentalist vote bank is abandoning them for the far right Islamist movements like JMB et. al. While at the same time they are failing to attract the mass voters because of this extreme image that they have.

Bikalpa Dhara / Gono Forum: Bikalpa Dhara showed initial promise. In their first set of posters that they printed, had both Sheikh Mujib and Ziaur Rahman on the same page. But since then it has been downhill. They have not been successful in making themselves noticed outside the diplomatic belt of Gulshan and Baridhara (and of course Munshiganj). Gono Forum, which was to AL, what Bikalpa Dhara is to BNP, has failed to even win a single seat they have so far contested for. In 1996 election, their leader, the much-respected Dr. Kamal Hossain lost his deposit from an “intellectually enlightened” constituency like Dhanmondi. And now to top of all this they have strategically aligned themselves to the AL and hence in the eyes of the voter have blended in with their more stronger partner.

Oli Ahmed: Does anyone still doubt if Col. Oli will bolt from the BNP once the caretaker government takes oath? It is believed that he will take with him a sizeable number of dissident BNP leaders. Mostly they will be the old guards who have lost all their standing under the rising influence of the young turks of the Hawa Bhaban. Col. Oli and his merry men have the distinct possibility of becoming the defacto opposition in the next parliament, with it the power to influence policy in the new era. But for this to happen, they have to play their cards just right. A lot depends on how many seats they can get for themselves through a tactical alliance with the AL.

Civil Society and/or the Army: One scenario that no-doubt will be playing in many political conversation in the next few weeks will be what might happen if the on-going talks between BNP-AL fail. Let us explore a possibility. Say, both AL and BNP refuse to budge from its position on Justice K.M. Hassan. Surely law and order will break down forcing the President facing a constitutional crisis to call on the Armed forces to restore order. The Army are reading the same polls as we are. The people are exasperated with the politicians and will not mind for some authoritarian spring-cleaning. The men in green might call for a national unity government, manned with civil society leadership and look at a longer time horizon till the next elections. The international community will make the required grumblings about the need to return to democratic rule but in essence, looking at popular support behind the new government, not do much to add power to their “official” stand.

The “New” BNP: Let us say we are now in middle of first quarter of 2007. Elections in Bangladesh have taken place and as predicted by Mr. Choudhury, BNP has between 60 and 70 seats in Jatiya Sangsad. Most of its leadership having either lost the elections or having defected, is in disarray. The new AL government moves with vengeance to prosecute the reported corruption of the current young leadership. The party will be ripe for the taking. If Begum Zia has even a fraction of political acumen, she will allow new “clean” leadership to replace the stooges of dubious moral standing being currently promoted by her son. Many from the pro-business caucus find BNP more attuned to their needs than AL and may flock to a re-emerging BNP. Once purged of corrupt self-serving overlords the party can get back to re-energising their base. Rajiv Gandhi successfully did something similar with the Bofor’s Scandal hit Congress party in India after their disgraceful loss to VP Singh.

The “New” AL: Like in BNP, AL too has seen a power struggle between the young and old guards. I am not a betting man. Otherwise my money would be on Saber Hossain Choudhury and him bringing in the Chattra and Jubo League under his belt. And use this as a base to fire up the new entrants to our voter rolls. Let us hope good sense prevails and from the midst of the negativity that is everywhere now, they become the harbinger of positive politics.

Generation 71: The average age in Bangladesh is 21. Vast majority of our population were born post 1971. Sheikh Mujib, Generals Zia and Ershad and all their politics do not mean much to us. While they have their rightful place in our history, we look at our leaders to bridge us to the future and not be lost in our past. Many of us are well educated with degrees from the best institutes of learning from across the world. We see a dream of a strong Bangladesh. We see the hope of a successful Bangladesh. We believe in the promise of a prosperous Bangladesh. I will not be surprised if we soon say enough is bloody enough, it is now our turn to rule. You only need to talk to anyone under the age of 40 today to see that not only does this generation of leaders march to a different beat; they have decided to take altogether a different route to Bangladesh’s future.

Many possibilities. But two things as we see today are certain. Firstly the eventual master of our destiny will be the one who speak and believe in the language of hope. Secondly the politics of the next six months are going to be crucial in deciding what the long-term future of each of the political party is going to be. We are indeed looking at a new arithmetic. Let us now hope our leaders can add.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Elections 2007: A New Arithmetic by Nazim Kamran Choudhury

It seems due to a IT glitch, Daily Star has not been able to upload a copy of Mr. Nazim Kamran Choudhury's article on the Election 2007.

As many readers have requested me for a copy, I have uploaded it on a seperate blogspace [http://nazimkamranchoudhury.blogspot.com/]. You can click on the title of this post to take you there.

It is definately something all Bangladeshis should read.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Resort to violence or turn the other cheek?

New Age today 5th October has printed my last entry "Read this or one tight slap" (albeit under the more acceptable title!) Hope you enjoyed it!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

“Read this... or one tight slap!”

Do you get a feeling that we Bangladeshi’s have gotten very short fuses these days? At a drop of a circuit breaker we are ready to pounce on each other. Be it the police or the demonstrators.

Just today in a simple altercation over parking space, a fight broke out between some sportsmen and the police leading to Commonwealth Game medallist Asif being brutally beaten up. Now each of the groups blame the other for starting the fight. But end of the day police yet again lost credibility with the common man. And all this during Ramzan. Are we not supposed to be more civil during this month?

I had such a run in with the police a few years back. I had apparently parked in front of an embassy when I was not supposed to. Anyway when I got back to my car the cop there started shouting at me. I replied that he should have told me when I had parked and I would have moved it. Anyway as I was moving out how did it matter. Without warning he grabbed me by the collar and hit me with the butt of his gun. I was stunned! Before I could react some drivers near the area came and pulled the cop away. It seems he had done this a few times before the previous weeks. Though I complained to the Gulshan Thana I doubt anything happened to the policeman.

It is not police brutality only. Just recently in an incident, that I am being forced to be a judge to, an argument over keeping one’s voice down got into a point where punches were exchanged. Mind you both the aggrieved parties are from “bhodro” background and it happened in an executive setting!

All this frustration I guess is basically, stemming from the helplessness we feel. Might, we have been proven time and time again, is right. Look everywhere. Whenever we rave and rant we seem to make headway. Be it shouting for exams to be postponed because of the World Cup, or to keep loss-making Biman flying – all it takes seems is a loud voice. Kansat, Phulbari, Mirpur all are branded around as successful examples of “people power”. While I am not getting into the rational or justifications for the actions in these places, I am worried that the apparent success of such movements in the long run shows the way for others. In the future movements might not have popular support or justification. All it will take is someone to whip up a fervent crowd and we get what we desire! Is that not how the Nazi Party came to power in pre-war Germany? Burn down the Reichstag – down with the Jews!

Then again what can we do? Our leaders are not leading. Their example is also that of the “gunda” raj. If I have musclemen on my roles, it translates to I have power over my constituents. It is matter of time before the ones that I dominate with rise up against me. Off with the head! French Revolution will not be far behind if all we do is use sheer strength to make oneself heard.

In 1947 and then again in 1971 we decided that we do not have a shared heritage with rest of the sub-continent. So we never recognised some of the role models of pre-Partition days as rightfully ours as well. Gandhi somewhere got erased from our history. And with it the most valuable lesson he taught. Turn the other cheek. Now Bengalees from all sides of the divide had an equal role as any other Indians or Pakistani to throw the English out of our country. And with the exception of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and his INA, we did live true to Gandhi’s directives. Non-violent movement paved the way for our independence alright, but in the backdrop of the bloodshed of the Partition that lesson was easily forgotten. And since then any change we have had has been rooted in violence. The language movement, the 1969 student’s movement, 1971, 1975, 1980, 1991 all those dates have one thing in common – violent uprising. Anytime we needed a catalytic change we resorted to violence. So now if the shopkeeper wants electricity in his shop in the evening all he has to do is threaten violence and government does a 180 degree volte-face.

Will we ever find Gandhi again? India is currently going through the “re-birth” of Gandhi after appearance in the hit movie “Laghe Raho Munna Bhai” (ironically the lead actor Sanjay Dutt was jailed after being implicated in Bombay Blast case). The film’s protagonist is a muscleman who discovers the learning of Gandhi when he tries to impress his love interest. Weaved around the plot of the movie is that being true to the non-violent path will eventually lead to the desired outcome. This movie has rightly sparked up a lot of interest in the teachings of the Mahatma.

Despite what many in the world think, Islam too is a religion of peace. And the basic tenant of the holy month of Ramzan is purification. We need to do away with the evil of our hearts and re-pledge our allegiance to the purity of Allah’s ways. The “new” jihad needs to be against violence and not be the root cause of it.

I believe the time has come for us to look at these lessons well. Violence will beget more violence. Peace will lead to peace. Does it not make more sense to talk things out rather than to throw punches?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Swadee Khrab General: Some Answers Questioned


A soldier gives a group of Thai girls some water after they danced to entertain the soldiers occupying the area around parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, Sept. 25, 2006. The tanks and soldiers who led Thailand's military coup have become a tourist attraction with hundreds of people arriving daily to pose for pictures with them, and vendors selling toys and drinks in a carnival-like atmosphere. (AP Photo/Ed Wray)



As tanks rolled down the streets of Bangkok, democracy rolled back 15 years. But did it? The anti-Thaksin paper Nation claimed “It was a necessary evil, if you look at it. There were no other options to end this political cul-de-sac.” But are they correct?

Last April I spent a month in Bangkok at the height of the political stalemate that gripped Thailand and the time the opposition boycotted polls. Even though the capital got ready to welcome leaders from the world to celebrate 60 years of their revered King’s accession to the thrown, it was clear that they were heading into murky waters of instability in the future. A chat with a tuk tuk driver or a hotel receptionist in Bangkok gave the same result – they lost faith in Thaksin.

Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT – Thais Love Thais) party swept into power with a landslide in 2001. The nation (both the country and the paper) was in love with the self-made media savvy billionaire. This ex-policeman turned businessman turned politician made his money from interests in telecommunication. He promised to run the Asian “tiger economy” like he ran his company. Unfortunately that is not how you run a country. As we see from the troubles in boardrooms across the world, entrepreneurs who build empires often cannot see the difference between company and self. Thaksin, many people claimed, made that crucial mistake. He bent rules to fit him. He appointed friends and family to important positions in the government, judiciary and even in the army. And then he committed the most cardinal of sins. He became arrogant. Drunk by his power he forgot he had a country of 70 million who put him where he was. In five years he went from the future of the Thai to its past. Thais it seems did not “Rak” him anymore.

However there is an interesting point to note. By all accounts TRT particularly and Thaksin personally remained hugely popular in the impoverished rural Thailand. Even many of his detractors accept that if free and fair polls are to be held today TRT will do better than well in many provinces, specially the upcountry areas. Thaksin’s loss of popularity it seems in mostly rooted in the middle class Bangkok, and not in the rest of the country. So can we deduce that the middle class “intelligentsia” overthrew a popular and democratically elected leader? Did people who were singing praises for him a few years back now made it inevitable for the Army to take charge?

Someone had once claimed “leave no answer unquestioned.” In that spirit, will the answer Nation newspaper gave, – “necessary evil… no other option”, hold? Coup d’etat leader General Sonthi’s contention was that if they did not send in battle tanks to the Government House, Thaksin would have done so himself. Did he not order Sonthi’s removal? Did he not declare emergency?

Even an amateur Thailand watcher will tell you the deciding factor in any political action in that country is the Monarch. Though having only constitutional powers like that of the Queen of England, King Bhumibol Adulyadej has unyielding sway over his people. It is believed that leading up to the election in April and subsequently, his Majesty was displeased with where politics was heading. In a nation that reads a lot into his action, he appointed to his Privy Council ex-generals that Thaksin had crossed. That itself should have been a hint enough for the astute Prime Minister to tone down his rhetoric. But he was deluded with the empty victory he won in April, and fell pry to his own political game. It seemed that he checkmated himself. There was nowhere to go. The Opposition, smelling blood, dug in their heels and ensured that TRT did not have the opportunity to show their strength through an election.

Next few months will be quite interesting to a political aficionado looking at Thailand. Here we have a democratically elected successful leader overthrown in a popular move by the Army swearing loyalty a heredity ruler in the name of people power. It does not get more ironic than this.

Every tale should have a lesson. Are there any for us in Bangladesh to take? Some of the similarities are uncanny. Both nations have a history of military rulers. Democracies in both countries were established in earnest in the early 1990s. Both TRT and BNP can claim a landslide mandate to govern. And in 5 years both have become a millstone around the neck of democracy. Due to corruption, nepotism and inefficiency both lost their moral justification to rule.

Does this mean we might see tanks in the streets of Dhaka? Some scenarios do lend itself to that possibility. Say Justice KM Hasan does not relinquish his constitutional duty to lead the caretaker government. The Leader of the Opposition has already asked her supporters to land up in Dhaka with whatever tools they can muster. What option does the President have but to call on the Armed Forces to maintain peace? Or say elections do take place and BNP wins, AL will surely cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war. Or say the other way around. AL wins and like the current government, believes the votes were cast in support of them instead of being against their adversary.

Any astute commentator will tell you what private opinion polls show, Bangladesh is sick and tired of both the main political parties and their empty promises. As a New Market trader reasoned “they are two sides of the same fish.” We are aching for an alternative. And if the valiant men in green want to walk into Sangsad Bhaban, I strongly believe they will be greeted as liberators with a thunderous ovation.

This brings me to the central question that needs to be posed. Will promotion of democracy be a justification for the suspension of the Constitution? It seems our experiments with democracy have not yielded the results we were expecting. Holding free and fair elections every five years does not mean anything as long as the people we have voted for do not go into Parliament and debate why the power crisis will take 5 years to resolve. Or why we must pay Tk 100 for a kg of onions, or why Quami madrassa will get the same recognition as a graduate degree. As long as there cannot be floor crossing in the Sangsad, or Parliamentary Party meetings, or free party office-bearer elections, can we truly say we have democracy in practice? Till our Judiciary, our bureaucracy, our army, our business, our media, our civil society are above political bickering and influence, how can we say that we have a democracy to protect? It is simple maths that if you take two steps forward and a step back –you are still a step forward. Thank you General Sonthi, or as they would say in Thailand, Khrob kuan khrab, you might just have shown us new marching steps.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Spell Chequer

4 thos of u who r addicted to the greatest invention since Hale Berry:

Owed two a Spell Chequer

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea
Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh
As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee four two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rare lea ever wrong
Eye have run this poem threw it
am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect awl the weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.

Martha Snow, from The Funny Times

Courtesy: www.bbcworld.com/click

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Pope's Little Blunder!




A lot has been said and written about the Pope's unusually provocative comments in Germany. So all I'm doing is posting a cartoon that I believe highlights the crux of the issue. Note the "See-Hear-Do-No-Evil" stain glass in the back!

To read some excellent postings on the subject try:
3rd World View at http://rezwanul.blogspot.com/
Inspiration and Creative Thought at http://mysticsaint.blogspot.com/

GraphicPeople

As a lot of you might be aware we have a JV IT company with PeopleGroup of Denmark. Started about 20 months ago, we are now amongst the largest IT exporters in Bangladesh and are doing better than anticipated.

The company has recently relaunched their website which I hope you will have a chance to visit and encourage us.

www.graphicpeople.net

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Black Knight : Official Game of the Police

Given the pachant of our Police force to use - well.. force, I thought this game will help you enjoy bashing up people with batons!! (And in the process collecting mooonneeeyyyy!)

Happy swinging!




Miniclip Games - Black Knight
Black Knight

The King has created a new way of getting taxes from his people.

Play this free game now!!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Article in Daily Star

Daily Star has published a slightly modified version (edited for newspaper by me) of my post "What if people power is not right". It is viewable at [http://www.thedailystar.net/2006/09/05/d609051501130.htm] or by clicking on the headline of this post which will take you to the relevant page on the Daily Star site.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Let The People Speak!

“Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

- Hermann Goering at Nuremberg Trial (a leading member of the Nazi Party, second in command of the Third Reich)

Thanks to Razib Rashedin of Me, Myself and Bangladesh [http://rashedin.blogspot.com/] for posting this originally.

Is this quote not perfect when you look at with the perspective of the recent Phulbari incident. We have been told by that the people are against the Phulbari open pit mining project. But have we asked the people what they think? I am sure Mr. Anu Mohammed will say he has. We need to examine very closely what questions were asked. As any market researcher worth his reputation will point out the curse of his trade is "leading questioning". If we ask a illiterate farmer if he is okay for “East India Company” to come and take over his land – what do you think would be his reaction? Now if we were to ask the same farmer that we will provide him with three square meals a day, education for his children and a future for his grandchildren only if he sells his land at today’s market price? What do you think his answer will be?

Let us not bring innocent people of Phulbari as pawns of our deadly chess game. End of the day our leaders in all sides of the argument have taken on the responsibility to not only protect our rights but ensure our prosperity.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

What if People Power is not right?

Are we throwing the baby out with the bath water?

A junior minister of the BNP government and the Rajshahi mayor in their infinite wisdom has decided what will be Bangladesh’s FDI and Coal Policy. They have as well given the mass uprising that had been instigated with false and misleading information by the leftist anti-investment (and business) “intellectuals”, official endorsement.

Zafar Sobhan in his post-editorial piece in yesterday’s Daily Star [http://www.thedailystar.net/2006/09/01/d60901020330.htm] made the wisest argument I’ve heard in a long time. He is so right. Asia Energy deal might be suspect and we should examine it but does it mean we let this guide our national policy? At this end we are overlooking the benefits accruing to the nation. A project of this magnitude does not only have direct benefits but also through a multiplier effect have ripple effects across the economy.

Few simple examples: say to transport the coal to its markets the rail and port networks have to develop. Can you imagine what benefits it would give North Bengal? And what about the hundreds of people employed in the area to support those who have been employed by AEC. Shopkeepers and teacher; policemen and rickshaw pullers; cleaners and security gaurds – the list goes on. And think of the ancillary industries that could be developed using coal as raw material. Project of this nature would have made Dinajpur prosperous and the nation with it.

We should examine what are the arguments put up against AEC’s project:

1. Open Pit vs. Deep Shaft Mining: the big debate stems around the choice of mining methods. The productivity of the Open Pit mining (upto 90% as opposed to 20%) itself should have been sufficient an argument. But added to that there are other benefits of this method. For example Shaft mining are notoriously hazardous to human health. Fire, cave-ins, gas leak et.al all lead to quite a few disasters each year across the world. Our Barapukaria mines itself is no exception. Another thing to note is that the coal basin in the area is quite deep underground. I believe more than 400 meters down. This makes shaft mining quite unproductive and unmanageable.

2. Ground Water Management: Experts have rightly pointed out that there is a major issue with ground water system. Apparently the deposit is under an underground aquifer. So to extract the coal all the water has to be pumped out. This creates two problems. Firstly the question of what to do with the excess water that comes up and secondly the general water level of the area might go down. Both these issues need to be managed. Despite what some people are saying, the water will not be just pumped out into the open. Creating an artificial lake and re-using the water in the mining process can be a solution. Why, an irrigation system for the entire North Bengal itself can be developed. There are examples in South India where Chennai’s water supply comes from mines hundreds of miles away. We could solve the water crisis that has hit Dhaka through this method.

3. Environmental Management: The idea of sooth falling all over the area and creating black skies are as old as the demise of the British Mining Industry. New environmental systems can easily mitigate such issues. Coal unlike in shaft mining is actually dug up by giant excavators and human exposure to it is minimum. Of course a proper environmental management procedure needs to be in place. I understand that the newer open pit quarries are not only up to Kyoto prescribed emission levels but can actually earn tradable credits.

4. Displacement of people: A side effect of this project will be the displacement of people. Now be it 40,000 (as AEC claims) or 100,000 (as Anu Mohammed does) there will be a lot of people loosing their ancestral land. This is not a new thing. Building of any large infrastructure project will result in this. Say for example the new Expressway between Dhaka and Chittagong that is being talked about; do you think this will only be on land currently owned by the Government? However proper compensation for this loss needs to happen. This is not only market price of the land being paid, but also finding long term earning potential of those displaced. Jobs that will be created should of course go to those displaced first.

5. Vast Areas that are required: I’ve heard a few arguments of how the national mining policies have guidelines of how much land a mine should or can use. One needs to re-examine this. Is it not common sense that we should utilise the maximum amount of land so that we have the maximum return? Also the non-coal earth that will be dug out needs to be stored in proper manner so that after all the coal has been brought out the area can be re-filled and re-claimed to be used as farm land.

6. Royalty Earning: there is a lot of confusion regarding this one. 20% vs. 6% the argument goes. Well for one the National Coal Policy has not been agreed upon as yet. We need to ensure that Bangladesh benefits to the most degree possible. If this means 20% or more – so be it. We should not let this negotiation be done on anyone’s terms but ours. But does it mean that we will not have a new coal mining policy? No. All stakeholders need to buy in.

7. Export of Coal: As in the case of Natural gas, we are rightly very possessive about what happens to our limited resources. Some argument has been tabled that most large coal producing countries do not export their coal. That is because of their domestic demands. Energy hungry countries like China need all that they can dig up. I agree that we need to find enough value addition that we can do to the product in our economy. We need to diversify our energy basket and take the pressure of producing electricity from natural gas (that having other use) to coal (which in this case has a very rich calorific content). This means that if we can create a substantial domestic market at prices that will allow AEC to offset production costs and earn a reasonable profit, there is no reason why we should not limit (or stop) the amount of coal that they can export.

8. Debate: This argument is my favourite. I hear everyone say that the deal should not be “against national interest”. Of course! Is that not a given? I am being na├»ve here. Given Bangladesh’s history, this has not always been the case. So yes a national debate should happen. And the deal needs to be transparent. But how can this happen? The Government and the Opposition (our elected representative- who have been given the mandate by us to decide this matter amongst other things) should ideally be discussing it in the Jatiya Sangsad. But you and I both know that except for getting duty free cars that body is not good for much! So where can this debate happen? Currently via proxy in the media this is being conducted. While the scrutiny by our journalist friends have ensured we don’t get a raw deal, it is not a very conducive or conclusive manner of debate. And running street battles in Phulbari is certainly not the way to go about the issue. Brings me back to square one – debate must happen, but where? Answer to this one I don’t know.

At the end of a week of agitation, the Coal, Natural Gas, Port Protection Committee is claiming “people’s victory” and celebrations are in the streets of Phulbari and our TV screens. But is it a victory for anyone and everyone? I believe, in the long run, it certainly is not for Bangladesh. We have put in doubt (if not back by half a decade) the much-needed foray into coal mining. A long shadow has been cast on our exemplary record when it comes to sovereign dealings. Further FDI in areas of infrastructure and basic industry development has taken a few leaps back.

And scariest thing of all we have given the people idea that by being able to create a false fervor we can achieve almost anything. So when we give into students protesting and demanding that examination dates be postponed so that they can watch football; when we give into employees and run loss making airline; when we give into agitating typists and ensure the growth of bureaucracy; we also give out a signal that the loudest (and not always the brightest) is mightiest! Unfortunately there are times when people do get it wrong.